The International Rugby Board and its Member Unions have underscored their ongoing commitment to consistent and accurate match officiating by approving a global trial to extend the powers of the television match official (TMO).
Applicable to both international and domestic competition from the beginning of the next respective season in the northern and southern hemispheres, the extended protocol will enable the referee to consult with the TMO to review up to two phases (rucks or mauls) before the ball is grounded in the act of scoring. The referee may also call on the TMO to advise on incidents of possible foul play.
Sanctioned by the IRB Rugby Committee, implementation follows extensive Union consultation and evaluation of the initial trials of extended TMO protocol variants in England's Aviva Premiership and South Africa's Absa Currie Cup by the independent IRB Laws Representative Group (LRG). Both trials were deemed to be highly successful.
The LRG comprises technical representatives from each of the 10 Tier One Unions and representatives of the IRB Rugby Committee and was charged with the mission of determining a protocol that improves the efficiency of the TMO role without adversely impacting on the character of the Game.
Having reviewed detailed statistical analysis of the two Union-specific trials, the LPG agreed that given the vast majority of tries at elite level are scored from two phases, the Currie Cup protocol is sufficient to ensure that the TMO has scope to address potential match-affecting incidents in the build-up to a try being scored. Strong officiating and a programme of Union education will also be key to successful implementation.
IRB Rugby Committee Chairman Graham Mourie said: "It was a difficult task for the Laws Representative Group to determine which variation of the protocol should go forward for global trial as both had significant merits and both have been embraced by match officials, coaches and players."
"However, after extensive analysis, the group felt that the Currie Cup variant which encapsulates two prior phases of play without a major time impact is sufficient to address match-affecting incidents that are currently not captured by the TMO protocol as it appears in Law."
"We have a clear way forward and it is now important that we educate our match officials to ensure excessive recourse to the TMO must be avoided for the sake of continuity and, to that end, match officials will be reminded of that and assessed accordingly."
IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset added: "I would like to thank the RFU, SARU and PRL for embracing and supporting this important process by opening the way for trials within their flagship domestic tournaments."
"Rugby continues to evolve and innovate and there is no doubt that Rugby referees have one of the toughest officiating roles in sport. We are committed to ensuring that they have all the tools they require from conditioning, management and technology to ensure that they can perform to the highest possible standards."
The global trial is in addition to the global trial of six Law amendments approved by IRB Council in May, from the start of the next season in each hemisphere, and forms a package of amendments aimed at enhancing key areas of the Game.
An evaluation of the global Law amendment trials will be reviewed by the LRG and Rugby Committee in 2013 prior to the IRB Council making a decision at its May 2014 Meeting whether to approve or reject the amendments as Law.
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